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Thread: Salt vs. fresh in the bilge

  1. #1
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    The bilge cleaner thread reminded me, I once read that salt water is a preservative - theoretically a wooden hull would last indefinitely in salt water, all other things being equal. And that fresh water is actually more corrosive to wood than salt water. So if the boat is in a situation where it has water in the bilge no matter what, would it be better for it to be salt? If it's sitting out in the rain, say, might one go so far as to pour salt into the boat? And if so, what kind? Road or table?

    [ 02-22-2003, 12:45 PM: Message edited by: Rocky ]

  2. #2
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    Rocky, I dunno what or where you have been but, salting a vessel was common practice in the times of wooden ships and iron men, or something like that.
    Problem is/was that they were iron fastened and you do recall what happens to iron in the presence of salt?
    FRESH AIR is the ticket here, nice flowing fresh air. Clean bilges, and flowing fresh air. Decay needs oxygen and electolysis needs a conductor so water and salt are not good things, folla?
    "Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I can accomplish"
    Michelangelo

  3. #3
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    I try to keep up. So salt is better unless there's iron, and a dry bilge is better still.

    [ 02-22-2003, 02:41 PM: Message edited by: Rocky ]

  4. #4
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    I was going through a cycle where I had the boat open for a period in the fall. There were several big storms that had made it difficult to keep everything dry. I salted frequently, spread it out along the perimiter as well as a few pounds in the bilge. I put some down anywher I felt that might drain into an area where it would not dry immediatly.

    The pair of vise grips that I found last week will never work again. They were encrusted.

  5. #5
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    Get into the bilge with a sponge and wipe away all traces of moisture. Put some of those moisture soaking crystals in net bags around. If salt is in the water then rinse it immediately with distilled water until the salinity reaches an acceptable level. Wrap all pices of iron in water-tight resealable bags filled with cosmoline.

    Repeat until you are dead.

    [ 02-22-2003, 04:15 PM: Message edited by: Otter ]

  6. #6
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    Leaks are nature's way of making the bilge nice and clean.

  7. #7
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    Rocky, NO NO NO!
    That was then and this is now. We have learned that salt is not good in the vessel. Large wooden vessels had special fitments between the hull and ceiling that were filled with salt. The idea was the salt would melt when moisure hit it and it would preserve the wood. Do a Google search and I bet you can find photos of salt corrosion of wood.
    Sure you are bound, all things being equal, to get some water of one kind or another in the bilge but adding salt to it. NO PERIOD!
    Keep the bilge clean and as dry as possible and have that good air flow.
    "Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I can accomplish"
    Michelangelo

  8. #8
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    Rocky
    In 1999 I bought a replica 18th century ships jolly boat built by the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Port Townsend,WA. I was told to keep the bilge wet so the wood would not dry out and open the seams on the long trip home.(2500 miles). I was also told that fresh water would be the death of the boat and that I should add salt to the water to protect the wood. I was told that it did not matter to much what kind of salt was used that even Epson Salt was acceptable. I followed their advice and even now when I take the boat out I sponge all the water I can and in those places where I cannot get I put a few pieces of left over salt that I used on my sidewalks in winter. No damage has been noted. When I put the boat in its storage shed for the winter I put a little salt in the bilges to take care of any moisture that may collect due to condensation. I do frequently wash the bilges to ensure that too much salt does not build up.

    I believe that the preservational properties were first noted by fishermen on fishing boats who may have noted that the least amount of rot occured in the holds where salt and salted fish were stored. If salt was such a detriment to wood then how did all those fishing boats survive to become the schooners in Maine and England that we like to see and visit?

    I would agree that you should keep it away from Iron and other such metals.

    Tom G.
    Tom G. (Seaweed)

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  9. #9
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    Hmmm, correct me if I am wrong but, aren't most if not all of those schooners Down East, replicas or full restorations? I don't think they are salted in fact I would be very surprised if that were so.
    And even if they were original, the IRON that they were built with was probably Swedish Iron vs. todays steel.
    No argument in a small craft that spends any time out of water and is made to be IN the water most of the time, plank shrinkage would be a problem but I cannot accept that as a reason for salting the bilge of a full time in the water vessel.
    The literature and documentation is out there on all sorts of corrosion including salt.
    Besides that interior of a vessel that is salted is very clammy and not at all comfortable.
    "Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I can accomplish"
    Michelangelo

  10. #10
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    Right, Otter, wooden boats are God's way of letting us appreciate repetitive tasks.

  11. #11
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    Salt traps moisture. Moisture keeps hulls tight. Tight hulls keep water in. Water and salt corrode ferrous fasteners. Ferrous fasteners that fail due to corrosion, create loose planking.... It's a no win situation....

  12. #12
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    keep plenty of salt in the bilge and you will never have a dry boat, try leaving a towel on board for say one week and see just how dry it is, you can almost watch the mould grow on the deckhead, and lastly if there is any galvanic corroding ability available the saltwater/moisture will help it along enormously, and after that you will never be short of work on your boat.

  13. #13
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    Here in Tasmania most fishermen and wooden boat owners swab decks and cockpits regularly with seawater this keeps the boats moist in summer, replaces fresh water (in those cracks and crevasses), rinses bilge which is pumped out (I rarely see a dry bilge in a wooden boat, particularly working boats).
    Seawater is good for properly built wooden boats. I have only found rot in timber exposed to fresh water, (rain or condenstion).
    Tools and inadequately 'marinised' engines are the common victims of salt.
    Malcolm

  14. #14
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    ...also good ventilation (as mentioned0 , is vital to reduce condensation throughout the boat.
    Malcolm

  15. #15
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    Hmm. Let's do an experiment.

    Take a piece of fairly rot-prone wood (so it'll go faster) and lay it out in the desert, where it's dry and there's lots of air movement.

    Take another piece of the same wood, put it out in a coastal area where there's lots of salt in the water and the air, and make sure it's not in an area where it gets too much air movement.

    Watch to see how long each piece of wood takes to decay.

  16. #16
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    Try this, go down to the beach, ocean or sound try to find a piece of drift wood that has dry rot, next go to any lake try to find a piece of wood that does not have dry rot. The old Finnish fishermen at Ilwaco, WA salted their boat every winter during lay-up, the only arguement was the method. Some of those boats are pushing 100 years old. My boat was built in 1911 60' classic tug, fir on oak and gets a regular wash down with sea water, no new dry rot. By the way, she is a nailed boat and I have to agree that salt is hard on fasteners that are properly protected.

    Terry

  17. #17
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    OOPS not properly protected

  18. #18
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    Terry, seems like every fisherman in the PacNoWest had a recipe for preserving their boats.
    Some used Kero, some used Diesel, some used salt water wash down, some used lime wash. You name it and it was tried.
    Boats with the kero or diesel would be hosed down with liquid detergent before fishing season. Duwamish looked like a laundromat gone wild!
    No they didn't do the fish hold and that is where the rot usually started. Ice = fresh water, not good. No matter what the 'secret sauce' used there was always a well screened hatch on 1/2 latch up forward and one aft to encourage the air flow all winter long. And what fisherman do you know who doesn't come down to his boat at least every other day? Fire up the stove, make some coffee and wait for all his cronies to do the same and come over for a cuppa.
    "Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I can accomplish"
    Michelangelo

  19. #19
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    Wow, talk about getting differing opinions! OK, how about this? She's snug in the garage but damp from condensation. What should I do? Salt or no salt? How about baking powder or something?

  20. #20
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    No salt just keep her dry, get the air to move through her...IMHO
    Malcolm

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